Most Canadian workers never met him. But every Canadian worker owes a vote of thanks to Dick Martin, whose health-and-safety work led to real change in the workplaces we know today.
Brother Martin died earlier this month after a battle with cancer, aged 57. He was secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress during much of the 1990s.
Dick came from a breeding ground for labour activists – born in southern Ontario, he went to work in the hard-rock nickel mining town of Thompson MB. It was here he became a union activist and eventually president of his steelworkers’ local – the same local that produced UFCW Canada activists Brooke Sundin (now president of UFCW Canada Local 1518 in British Columbia) and Chuck McCormick (retired staff representative of UFCW Canada Local 832). Even Sister Bev Desjarlais, NDP member of Parliament for the northern Manitoba riding that includes Thompson and herself a member of UFCW Canada Local 832, is connected to the local through husband Robert Desjarlais, also a president of the Steel local at Inco.
Dick, meanwhile, went on to become president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, then an executive vice-president of the CLC before being elected secretary-treasurer. At every turn, Brother Martin’s activities kept in mind the health-and-safety concerns of workers everywhere. He was instrumental in establishing April 28th as the Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job, now observed around the world.
Brother Sundin, a long-time friend of Dick Martin, recalls in tribute: “Countless thousands of working people across the country who never met Dick and never even knew his name are working in a safer workplace because of his untiring efforts. We are all better for having him walk among us. He was a true friend of working people.”
With the threat of a province-wide strike looming, UFCW Canada Local 832 members at Canada Safeway stores in Manitoba have voted to accept binding arbitration to achieve a new two-year contract with the employer.
“Our members agree this is the best way to resolve the dispute,” says Bernard Christophe, president of Local 832. “We firmly believe that we can present a very persuasive, strong case for no wage or benefit cuts, and for many of the improvements we were trying to win through negotiations.”
The binding arbitration process accepted by both parties means that independent arbitrator William Hamilton will meet with both sides within 60 days, and attempt to resolve issues. Any unresolved issues at the end of that period will be decided by the arbitrator in the following 30 days, so that a new contract will be in place within 90 days.
Several items had already been agreed upon between the employer and Local 832. The potential elimination of meat-cutting and wrapping jobs in stores through the implementation of counter-ready meat has been put on hold pending the arbitrator’s ruling. There is also an agreement that the contract reached through the arbitration process will be for 24 months.
Meanwhile, 400 members of UFCW Local 175 remain on strike against Safeway at three stores in Thunder Bay ON (pictured). No talks are scheduled in that dispute at this time.
Workers at the Canamera Foods canola crushing plant in Nipawin SK ratified a new contract in October. The agreement provides 50 members of UFCW Canada Local 248P annual increases of 3%, 3%, and 3.25%, retroactive to August 1, 2000. There are also improvements in the life insurance, drug, and vision care plans, as well as in boot allowance. The casual employee classification has been eliminated, now with only permanent full- or part-time positions. The agreement reached was a significant improvement over the employer’s opening proposal of 37 pages of concessions.
More: Paul Meinema, UFCW Canada national staff
After a workplace accident threatened the sight of a 17-year-old part-time Loblaws worker, the Ontario labour ministry ordered specific changes for the store where the accident occurred. These included a maintenance program for knife sharpening, comprehensive worker training, protective gloves and glasses, and an investigation into designing height-adjustable cutting tables.
It wasn’t until UFCW Canada Local 1000A pressured the employer, however, that Loblaws agreed to apply the changes to all stores in the chain. Health-and-safety specialist Pearl MacKay-Blake, Local 1000A executive vice-president, says, “This is unprecedented, that one accident changes procedures in every store.”
More: Pearl MacKay-Blake, UFCW Canada Local 1000A
Five UFCW Canada Local 175 members at Quality Meats in Bramalea ON recently shared a $61,000 griveance settement. The company agreed to pay the award after the local successfully argued that the workers had been terminated without proper notice or severance.
More: Bob Linton, Kevin Shimmin, UFCW Canada Local 175, www.ufcw175.com
Sister De Angelis became a representative of UFCW Canada’s National Training Program in 1999, and chairs the UFCW Canada National Youth Committee. Debora organized her retail-clothing workplace in 1996, and was elected the Ontario Federation of Labour’s first youth V-P in 1997.